Skip to content

Effects of domestic pets on bandicoots explored in backyard wildlife study

Published 26 Oct 2016
bandicoot

A Tasmanian-based study has found that Tasmanian bandicoots, compared to their mainland counterparts, are not only naïve towards cats, but also dogs.

University of Tasmania Zoology research associate Dr Anke Frank collaborated with researchers from The University of Sydney and Macquarie University in a “Backyard Wildlife Hobart” citizen science study.

The study aimed to quanitfy for the first time the effects of domestic cats and dogs on native mammals and how these impacts might be mediated by garden size, features and location.

The first results of this study which just focussed on bandicoots have just been published in PLOS ONE, an open-access journal giving every resident the opportunity to read the study.

In previous research, Dr Frank’s collaborators had discovered that in Sydney residents’ backyard dogs, but not cats, led to lower activity of bandicoots.

They attributed this to thousands of years of exposure of bandicoots to dingoes, a close relative of the dog, whereas these native marsupials remain naïve towards cats, which only arrived with Europeans about 200 years ago.

In the Hobart-based study, the researchers predicted that if long-term experience with dingoes enabled mainland bandicoots to recognise domestic dogs, then Tasmanian bandicoots, which are inexperienced with dingoes would not recognise domestic dogs.

And indeed, contrary to the mainland, where bandicoots avoided backyards of dog owners, indicating that 4000 years of exposure to dingoes were enough to adapt to the threat of this once novel predator, neither dogs or cats affected the occurrence of bandicoots in Tasmanian backyards.

“Our results indicate that Tasmanian bandicoots are naïve to both, dogs and cats after only 200 years of coexistence, supporting our hypothesis and the notion that naivete in native prey toward alien predators (as observed on the mainland) may eventually be overcome,” Dr Frank said.

“The naiveté of bandicoots towards cats and dogs in Tasmania is of concern, because the study also revealed that cats and dogs were a real threat to bandicoots based on reports of bandicoot casualties by their owners.

“Preventing pets from chasing or killing bandicoots by keeping them indoors or on the lead, particularly near bush land reserves where bandicoots are most likely to be encountered by pets, will be important for the protection of bandicoots in Tasmania.

“Abundant shelter within the backyard was also an important predictor of bandicoot visitation.

Thus, providing shelter and keeping native bush land patches rich in shelter for bandicoots is also critical to protect bandicoots in Hobart.”

Dr Frank will give a public lecture on the results of her citizen science project, including the data on the other wildlife that was assessed, on 19 December between 4-6pm in the conference room under the Hobart Town Hall.

The event is free, but bookings will be required due to limited seating.

Please contact Dr Frank if you are interested in this event by emailing anke.frank@utas.edu.au.

Photo credit: Robyn Gates